November 22, 2013
All signs point to Spokane Chiefs winger Mitch Holmberg inking an entry-level contract with an NHL club sooner than later.
In his 20-year-old season, Holmberg has broken out into one of the top scorers in major junior hockey. He has already netted 26 goals and 57 points in his first 24 games to lead the WHL in scoring. Albeit it seems quite unlikely he will be able keep up his scoring pace of 2.375 points-per game, he is currently on pace to notch 171 points in a 72-game season.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple out there,” says Holmberg. “I just try to make the simple passes and take the shots when they’re there. And the whole team has been playing well. I’ve been getting help from my linemates. Everyone has been doing their part and that has made us successful this year.”
It would make perfect sense if a vigorous offseason workout led to Holmberg’s outstanding start to the season, but that isn’t the case. He treated his previous summer as he did the ones before for the most part.
“I didn’t do too much different,” says Holmberg. “I had to recharge my batteries. I think that’s important to keep loving going to the rink. You need a break in the summer. I also did some power skating. I think it helped my stride and speed.”
Some NHL teams may regret not selecting Holmberg in the 2013 draft now, but at the time it wasn’t that surprising to see him get passed over for the second consecutive draft. His 80-point season, which was an impressive 25-point improvement from his 18-year-old year, wasn’t strong enough to hurdle himself ahead of the loads of talented players two-years younger than him. Not to mention, his compact 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame doesn’t do him any favours in scouts’ eyes.
“I think it just took me a bit longer than some other guys,” says Holmberg. “Some guys can adapt quicker; it took me a bit longer to get used to the league. In my third year (where he scored 55 points in 66 games) I started to get going and I’ve just continued to build off that.”
Even though precedents, such as Brendan Shinnimin signing with the Phoenix Coyotes during his 134-point overage season with the Tri-City Americans in 2011-12, are in Holmberg’s favour to earn an NHL deal this year, he’s trying to keep his mind off it.
“It’s nice to get attention, but I’m trying to not worry about it,” says the Sherwood Park, Alta., native. “I can’t control what happens with that stuff. I’m just focusing on what’s going on here in Spokane.”
If Holmberg does indeed ink an NHL deal, it wouldn’t be the first time a high-scoring Chiefs forward did so in his 20-year-old season. Just over a couple of years ago back in the 2010-11 season, Tyler Johnson signed an entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the midst of his 115-point overage season.
Holmberg not only looks up to Johnson, his former teammate, but he is also a strong comparable to the Lightning sniper. In addition to their similar elite goal-scoring abilities, they both have smaller statures as Johnson stands just one-inch shorter and seven-pounds heavier at 5-foot-9, 182-pounds.
“I learned a lot from Tyler when he played with us,” says Holmberg. “Like me, he didn’t have it all and it took him a bit more time than other guys. I looked up to him and tried to take stuff from how he played and use it in my game. He’s got a good shot and is a good skater. And the big thing was he worked hard and earned everything he got.”